What are Penalty Runs in Cricket?

In this section I’m going to look in depth at the subject of penalty runs and the laws covering an issue that all cricketers will want to avoid.

What are Penalty Runs?

Penalty runs are awarded to opposing teams when a player or group of players infringes one of cricket’s relevant laws. Depending on who makes the infringement, those runs can be given to either the batting team or the fielding side. Five runs is a common penalty and these can be awarded in the following ways.

Penalty Runs to the Batting Team

The Ball Hitting a Fielder’s Helmet

If the ball hits a fielding side’s helmet and it is not being worn, five penalty runs will be awarded to the batting side.

Typically any helmets not in use will be placed on the grass, behind the wicket keeper. This rule would then apply when the keeper misses the ball which subsequently hits that helmet.

Penalty Run in Cricket

Illegal Fielding

A player is not allowed to field the ball with their cap or any part of their external clothing. If the umpires deem that a fielder has done this deliberately, 5 penalty runs are added to the batting side’s total.

Ineligible Fielder Touching the Ball

If a member of the fielding side leaves the field for any reason – injury, comfort break or something else, the umpire should be notified accordingly. The officials will record this and they must give permission for that fielder to return.

If a fielder has entered play without the umpire’s permission and they subsequently come into contact with the ball, 5 penalty runs will be awarded to the batting team.

Distracting the Batsman

Law 41.5 was brought in by the ICC in 2017 and it states that no member of the fielding team can deceive, obstruct or deliberately deceive a batsman.

This section also covers the issue known as ‘fake fielding’. We’ve seen some instances where fielders have deliberately tried to deceive the batsman by pretending to have the ball or that the ball is travelling to a different end of the pitch. These acts are covered by the deception rule and umpires have the power to award 5 penalty runs to the batting side.

Damaging the Pitch

No side should deliberately damage the pitch in order to gain an unfair advantage. Fielders can be suspended as we saw in the case of Shahid Afridi, who deliberately scuffed the pitch with his boots back in 2005.

Prior to that kind of sanction, umpires can award 5 penalty runs to the batting side for a second offence of this kind.

penalty runs cricket

Penalty Runs to the Fielding Team

Penalties can be incurred by batsmen too and the additional runs will be awarded to the fielding side. Unless stated, those runs will be added to the total of the fielding team’s previous innings. If they have yet to bat, their next innings total will start with those penalty runs added.

Short Run

Batsmen must ground their bat behind the popping crease to correctly record a run. If they inadvertently fail to do so, the umpire will simply call ‘one short’ and that specific run will not count.

However, if the batters are deemed to have deliberately run a short run, umpires have the power to hand 5 penalty runs to the fielding side.

Time Wasting

5 penalty runs can be awarded to the fielding side if the batsmen are deliberately wasting time. Perhaps they may be doing this at the end of a test match where they are nine wickets down and looking to draw the game.

Calling for gloves or drinks unnecessarily could be construed as time wasting as could lengthy chats between the batsmen at the end of an over. Those penalty runs would be awarded in the event of a second time wasting offence.

Damaging the Pitch

The batting side can also be penalised for damaging the pitch. This may be done by a batter towards the end of an innings with a view to giving their bowlers an unfair advantage later on.

A famous instance of this happened in a test match between Australia and New Zealand in 2020. Umpire Aleem Dar ruled that David Warner and Marnus Labuschagne were deliberately running on the danger area and he awarded 5 penalty runs to the fielding side.

Penalty Runs to Either Team

Ball Tampering

The law states that players cannot alter the condition of the ball by artificial means. Everybody remembers the sandpaper controversy when Australia’s Cameron Bancroft attempted such an act.

5 penalty runs will be awarded to either the batting or fielding team, depending on who has transgressed this law.

Practising on the Pitch on Match Days

This is an obvious one: The pitch should be kept clear in the days leading up to a match. If either side is found to be practising on it on the day of a match, 5 penalty runs should be awarded to the opposition.

Chris Jordan
Chris Jordan

Any Unfair Actions

This is an all-encompassing law to award penalty runs based on any issues that do not fall into the above categories. Offences can also lead to player sanctions with fines and suspensions following.

Penalty Runs due to Players’ Conduct

Level 1: 5 penalty runs can be awarded to either side in the case of dissent, obscene language and excessive appealing.

Level 2: offences include physical conduct, serious dissent and throwing a ball at a player or official. Once again, 5 penalty runs are at stake.

Level 3: 5 penalty runs will be awarded in the case of intimidating an umpire or threatening assault to anyone other than the umpire.

Level 4: offences carry 5 penalty runs for physical assault of a player, assaulting or threatening to assault an umpire or committing another act of violence.

Closing Thoughts

Fair play in cricket is something that has increasingly come under the spotlight in recent years. The penalty run rulings have gone a long way to address this and I feel that they are a vital part of cricket, as they can actively change the overall result of the game.